People with mobility needs are struggling to find suitable apartments in Montreal

MONTREAL —
With July 1 around the corner, people with mobility needs are having trouble finding apartments as Montreal continues to trudge through its housing crisis.

“It’s hard for anyone to find an apartment,” said Chris Kennedy, a Plateau resident who uses a wheelchair. “Multiply that by one hundred for someone with a disability.”

In 2019, vacancy rates fell to 1.5 per cent, a 15-year low, with only a fraction of available apartments suitable for people with mobility needs.

Kennedy’s home is on the ground floor. A ramp in front and an electronic door are two of the major adjustments he made to his home. He says he was lucky to find a place that could be adapted, and that many haven’t had his success.

It’s difficult to know how many accessible units there are in the city since requirements vary from person-to-person. Kennedy estimates that the ratio for wheelchair-friendly apartments is about 1 in 100 in Montreal, where large staircases, narrow hallways and crooked floors are common.

“There are stairs in almost every building,” said Leanne Ashworth, Manager of Concordia University’s Housing and Job Resource Centre. She says people using wheelchairs often have to limit their search to high-rise apartment buildings, where elevators are more common.

But even those can be hard to find. Buildings with more than 5 dwellings make up only 9 per cent of occupied homes in the city. Vancouver has nearly double that amount. Toronto has over three-times more.

Montreal’s executive council says it’s looking to increase accessible housing in the city through Montreal’s social housing program. In February, the city announced its Home Adaptation program which funds accessibility renovations with up to $35,000 per unit.

COVID-19 also seems to have impacted the rental market. People are less likely to move, say advocates, and physical distancing has made visiting apartments more difficult.

“This year is really a mess,” said Catherine Blanchette-Dallaire, founder of Onroule.org, a website which posts accessible housing ads. She says people call her weekly looking for homes.

“Usually this time of year we have a lot of posts on the website, people are renting their places,” she said. “This year, it was like nothing. We don’t have anything.”

Advocates say demand is high now, but it will get worse.

“We have an aging population in Montreal that needs to be taken care of,” said Ashworth.

According to the 2016 census, Quebec has the highest percentage of people living in seniors’ homes. Quebec’s Statistics Institute expects the amount population of people over 85 to nearly double by 2036. Advocates agree more work needs to be done.

“Civil society as a whole needs … to evaluate whether or not they think everyone deserves safe and dignified housing,” said Ashworth.

“I’m worried about people not having homes.”

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